Perhaps nothing has done as much damage to the Christian religion as when the word “faith” was redefined to mean believing without a reason, or contrary to reason. It has caused Christians to become unskillful in the use of their God-given ability to reason. It did this by making reason seem unnecessary for a life of Christian faithfulness.
But reason is very necessary for the Christian. To see that it is necessary, we don’t need to look any further than the nearest biblical figure of speech. We must reason in order to understand and apply what God has said. Reasoning in integrity about the words of God allows us to receive his message. Without reasoning, the communication fails. But the failure is not on God’s part. Rather the failure is on the part of the hearers. The hearers who love God, but do not reason, may wind up acting contrary to God’s will, for example, in cutting off their right hand or gouging out an eye. They have heard, and they have valued God’s words, but they have not received his message or obeyed his instruction. They have interpreted his words unreasonably. It is no use to say that God should have spoken more clearly. He has every right to expect his people to be reasonable. When faith is presented as something that stands apart from or even in contradiction to reason, this expectation breaks down in the minds of Christians.
Christians that have been alienated from reason are easy to take advantage of. They are sitting ducks, and easy pickings, falling victim to intentional deceit and accidental error. God doesn’t want that. He instructs us to be wise and mature, to grow in understanding, and to diligently add knowledge to our faith. That’s not the description of a person who avoids or ignores reason.
God’s word is not fragile. It won’t break just because you think about it too hard. In fact, it won’t break under any circumstance. God’s word is strong. It is simple, but it is also sophisticated. It can handle scrutiny. It thrives in the heart of the attentive reader. God’s word is true from every reasonable angle by which we might consider it. If you deal fairly with God’s word, it will never let you down.
Defining faith as something that is not even aided by reason has caused many Christians to become strangers to a careful use of reasoned thought. They don’t see the value of it, so they do not take the time to become familiar with it. Reasoning is a thing that can be done well or poorly; it is a skill. When I say it is God-given, that does not mean that it exists at full strength without any attention on our part. The ability to move your arms is God-given, in the same sense. Having the ability to move your arms, you may use them, if you so choose. Use of the arms will improve their strength and coordination. If you choose not to use them they will atrophy. Reasoning is similar. If we apply our ability to reason, it improves. If we ignore, it degrades. If we deliberately train our ability to reason, it can improve very quickly.
It might be worth considering where this redefinition of faith came from. This idea is very old by now, and so for anyone reading this post it may be that the idea came from a parent, teacher, mentor or minister. I believe that the idea originates (so far as it has a human source – the devil is the father of lies, after all) from unbelievers, raised in the church, who tried to combine their unbelief with Christian teaching. In doing so they sought to explain how Christian teaching was to be reconciled to their own conclusion that it was unbelievable. They sincerely thought God’s word to be absurd and contrary to reason, but they also desired to claim Christian faith as their own. Then suddenly a light bulb appeared above their pre-Edisonian heads. Faith must mean “believing” contrary to reason!
Only unbelief claims that it is unreasonable to take God at his word. Faith never concludes such a thing, but trusts God completely, because faith knows that God has complete knowledge and is perfectly honest. He is the expert witness that surpasses all others. Faith leans in close and learns from God. Unbelief sits back and says “impossible!” Consider the contrasting experiences of faith and unbelief. When a faithful soul trusts God, he gains understanding and experiences God’s faithfulness firsthand. When an unbeliever rejects God, he remains (but for grace) in the darkness in which he began.
There is a crucial point to highlighting the difference between true faith and the so-called faith, which is incompatible with reason. The so-called faith does not work. That is, closing your eyes and pretending to believe, when you do not, will never produce the results of faith. Only when you genuinely, and sincerely reach the conclusion that God is telling the truth, can you say that you believe him. Only when you trust and rely on his goodness and trustworthiness can you say that you have put your faith in him.